Unpacking the basics: Why and how do we read the Bible?
Alpha // May 24, 2019, 1:23 am
For many people today the Bible is dull, boring and full of contradictions. Or it’s just a rulebook, of no relevance to their lives in the 21st century.
Do you know that the Bible is the most popular book in the world? It’s the most successful literary creation of all time. Every year over 100 million Bibles are sold or given away. It’s the bestseller every year. It’s the most popular book in the world.
It’s also the most powerful book in the world.
Jesus says in Matthew 4:4: “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In other words, material things alone don’t satisfy. Even the best human relationships don’t ultimately satisfy. There’s always this what you might call a “spiritual hunger”, which can only be satisfied by something spiritual.
Furthermore, Jesus says that we need the words that have come out of God’s mouth to live. And the primary way in which God communicates with us is through the Bible. God has spoken – it’s His revelation to us.
WHY BOTHER WITH THE BIBLE?
1. The Bible reveals who Jesus is
Sometimes people say: “If there’s a God, why doesn’t he show himself to us? Why doesn’t he reveal himself?” And the answer is: He has.
God has revealed himself in creation
The fact that we’re here, that there’s something rather than nothing, that this universe is so amazing and finely tuned – this is basically the study of science. Science is the exploration of how God has revealed himself in creation.
And importantly, God is revealed in the fact that there is this hunger in every human heart that searches after God.
God has revealed himself as a person
He’s revealed himself in Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God.
And how do we know about Jesus? We only know about Jesus because of the Bible. The New Testament, of course, is all about Jesus, and the Old Testament, when you look at it through the lens of Jesus, is also about Jesus. This is the study of theology.
So while science is the exploration of how God has revealed himself in creation, theology is the exploration of how God has revealed himself in Jesus, in the Bible.
2. The Bible reveals who we should be
2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true; to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
In other words, the Bible is our authority for what we believe and for how we live. It’s full of lots of practical wisdom, advice and guidelines for how we live our lives: It gives us boundaries.
Sometimes people say: “Oh, it’s a rulebook! I really don’t want a rulebook – that will take away my freedom. Surely, if I follow this, I’ll lose my freedom.” But actually, we all need boundaries.
You know, if children grow up without boundaries, they’re insecure, they’re unhappy. It’s the same with us.
God didn’t say “you shall not murder” because he wanted to ruin our fun. He didn’t say “don’t commit adultery” because he’s a spoilsport. He doesn’t want people to get hurt.
True freedom comes when we know that God is in control, and there are boundaries to protect us. This is God’s love for us. He’s given us this book. It’s inspired by God. It’s authoritative. It’s the word of God. God has spoken.
3. The Bible is God’s love letter to us
The Bible is like a love letter from God. When you get a letter from someone you love, you treasure that letter – not because of the letter because the letter itself is nothing, in a way. It’s because of the person who wrote it.
And it’s the same with the Bible. This book in itself is nothing; it’s because of the author, and because the author wants to be in a relationship with you. He wants to speak to you. That’s why it’s precious.
4. The Bible builds our relationship with God
Supposing you were to get a new car and it arrived with a manual inside. And you got out the manual and went: “Wow! What a great book this is!”
And you start studying it, underlining the bits that really interest you and you think: “Wow, this is such a great book! And, you know, we should learn this by heart!” So you learnt certain sections by heart.
And maybe other people love this manual as much as you do! So you look for a club that you could join and talk to other people about your love for this manual.
The point of the Bible is to have a relationship with Jesus.
But that’s not what it’s all about! The point of the manual is to drive the car. The point of this book is to have a relationship with Jesus.
John says in John 20:31: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life.”
In other words, he says: “The whole point that I’ve written this gospel is so that you can have faith, and through believing you can have life!”
The whole point of the Bible is so that you and I can be friends of Jesus – in a relationship with Him. That’s the purpose. The book itself is only a means to an end.
HOW TO GET STARTED
1. Set aside a time and place to read the Bible
So, how do we hear God speak to us through the Bible? Make a plan. Time is our most valuable possession. We can get more money, but we can’t get more time. So set aside a time: Maybe 15 minutes a day.
And then find a place. Jesus went to a solitary place. A solitary place is a particular place in a room where you go each day, and you go there expecting that God is going to speak to you.
2. Commit to reading the Bible despite difficulties
Find a pattern for reading the Bible. There are many, many different ways that you can do this. For example, a Bible reading plan. Or join a Bible study fellowship group.
But most importantly, always check back on how what you’ve read applies to your life.
Of course, if you’ve ever tried reading the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, you’d have come across things and you say: “Ah, this is shocking!” There are moral difficulties, there are historical difficulties, there are apparent contradictions – there are all kinds of stuff and you might say: “How can this be inspired by God?”
It’s not easy. But it’s a bit like a crossword puzzle: You start with the clues and sometimes you come across one you just can’t answer. But you don’t stop; you move on to the next clue and maybe that’s a bit easier. Then you start to fill in a number of the clues, and that gives you the letters that you need to help you to understand the more difficult ones.
Getting to know God is a journey and reading the Bible is the start. Do you think the Lord may be trying to speak to you through His word? And if so, will you let Him?
This article was adapted from the Alpha Transcripts and has been republished with permission. If you have more questions and would like to further explore the basics of the Christian faith, find out more about Alpha or use the map below to connect with an Alpha group near you.
THINK + TALK
- Is the Bible your authority for what you believe and for how you live? Why or why not?
- What are some controversies in the Bible you find it hard to accept? How do you handle those questions?
- What is one way you can improve your Bible-reading habits?